Northern Ireland news

Councillors' letter lobbying for wage 'equality' with MLAs and MPs

SDLP councillor Joe Boyle. Picture by Bill Smyth
Brendan Hughes

COUNCILLORS have told Stormont civil servants they want wage "equality" with MLAs and MPs because their "undervalued" work has increased "without the back-up of a devolved government".

Last month The Irish News revealed a union representing councillors has written to officials calling for an "urgent review of councillors' remuneration and benefits".

The full letter by the Northern Ireland branch of the National Association of Councillors (NACNI) has since been released by the Department for Communities (DfC).

SDLP councillor Joe Boyle, NACNI's regional secretary, said he was writing "on behalf of Northern Ireland councillors" to request the review.

"In recent years councillors' responsibilities and demands for their time and services have increased significantly in relation to carrying out their roles in public life, while continuing to provide support to their constituents and communities, without the back-up of a devolved government," he said.

"For some time Northern Ireland councillors have felt that their work has been undervalued in relation to the work carried out by MLAs and MPs."

 

 

He said councillors' allowances and pension entitlements are "a great deal lower, and there are no ongoing severance arrangements".

"Councillors who stand down or are not re-elected after decades of public service walk away with virtually nothing and are often left in difficult financial circumstances," he said.

"As an organisation we are working to gain financial equality for our members in respect of the job they are doing and we have been trying to arrange a review for some time now."

He added: "With the local elections due in 2019 it is of upmost importance that this is urgently addressed and we request your urgent attention to this matter."

In his response sent in October, DfC's then permanent secretary Leo O'Reilly wrote: "Any future consideration of councillor remuneration including severance arrangements would be a matter for an incoming minister."

There are 462 councillors across the north, each receiving a basic annual allowance of around £14,000.

The basic salary for MPs is £77,379. MLAs usually receive £49,500 but this has been cut to £35,888 due to Stormont's collapse.

NACNI is funded by the north's 11 councils and is made up of councillors acting as delegates from each local authority.

In newsletters seen by The Irish News, NACNI updates councillors on its push for "equality between councillors and other political representatives".

"We are actively working to try to bring councillors' allowances and benefits closer to those received by other public representatives such as MLAs and MPs," it says on its website.

UUP councillor Michael Henderson, chair of NACNI, said a review is needed because councillors' roles have "matured and developed", but public spending campaigners accused councillors of "lobbying for more money to line their own pockets".

The Alliance Party later distanced itself from NACNI's lobbying, saying it was "not the time for anyone to be making demands like these".

Stormont's four other main parties did not respond to a request for comment last month.

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